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Authors: Maggie Sefton

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BOOK: Purl Up and Die
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“Nice, Kelly,” Burt said, fingering the scarf. “Don't forget, you have to draft the wool into batten or roving before you start felting it onto the scarf.”

“Mimi told me. So I can pretend I'm you, Burt, drafting away in the corner.” She grinned at him. “Have you been out in that heat doing errands?”

“This morning, yes. But yesterday afternoon I took Barb to see her family lawyer. I tell you, she didn't look good afterward. Barb didn't say a word, just stared out the window. I figure the lawyer repeated everything that we've all heard ourselves. The complaint has to be investigated by the police, and they file an official report. I told her that Tommy needs to go see the lawyer, too.”

“Did Mimi tell you what Lisa found out from her university contacts?”

“Oh, yes. And that professor's name rang a bell in the back of my brain. I remember two officers in the department investigated the complaint against that professor and made a report. Three years ago, as I recall.”

“Yes, it was a real eye-opener about the harshness of university life. It seems your reputation can be ruined by rumors and gossip.”

“Well, it takes more than rumors, Kelly. It takes an actual incident to start the gossip. Changing the subject, Mimi and I thought we'd drop by the ball field tomorrow and see Cassie's team play. And whoever else is playing.”

Kelly gave him a wide smile. “That's great, Burt. But
you and Mimi will have to get off the ‘repentance diet' and have a bag of popcorn like the rest of us.”

Burt chuckled. “Sounds good to me, Kelly.”

The sound of feet walking very fast echoed from the corridor. Mimi rushed into the workroom, eyes wide with obvious concern. “One of the customers up front said that she'd just heard on a radio news station that a young woman was found murdered in Fort Connor last night!”

Kelly stared at her. “What!”

“Where was it?” Burt demanded, former police detective persona appearing in an instant.

“In one of those large student apartment buildings near campus. Oh, Lord, she was probably a young college student!”

Burt hurried over to her and placed his hand on Mimi's shoulder. “I'll call Dan and see what he can tell me. Try not to worry.”

“I can't help it!” Mimi said, her voice rising. “I have so many of those girls in my classes. This is

Kelly dropped the scarf and wools onto the table and went to Mimi, placing her arm around Mimi's shoulders. “Don't jump to conclusions, Mimi. There are thousands of students in those huge apartment complexes.”

“I know, I know. It's hard not to worry. I've known some of those girls since they were in grade school.”

“I'll call Dan and see what he knows so far. If it happened last night, they may still be trying to notify next of kin.” Burt hurried from the room.

“Here, Mimi. I've already chosen my wool colors,” Kelly said, guiding her over to the paper-wrapped worktable.
“Why don't I help you get set up for class. It should be starting soon.”

Mimi blinked. “Oh, yes.” She glanced at her watch. “Class starts in ten minutes.”

“What do the students need? I can gather it for you and you can set it up.”

“Yes, yes . . . go ask Rosa where she put the new bottles of liquid dish soap. And the sponges. We have to have them out in the middle of the table. Then everyone finds a spot around the table.”

Routine duties were calming, Kelly had found. When her father was in the hospital dying of lung cancer, Kelly kept her account spreadsheets open on her laptop, ready to dive into whenever the nurses and doctors had to do tests and treatments on her father. Kelly had always hated that feeling of helplessness. There was nothing she could do to keep her father from dying. All she could do was to be there by his bedside, holding his hand and talking to him—while he could still talk.

Just then a young brunette woman stepped into the room. She looked around at the bags of wool fleece, then at Mimi and Kelly. “Is this the class on wet felting?” she asked.

Mimi gave her a big smile and walked toward her, welcoming. “Yes, it is. And what's your name, dear?”

Kelly moved back toward the bags of wool fleece. Mimi would be fine. Routine duties helped.


Saturday morning

hoooooo!” Kelly yelled from the bleacher seats at Rolland Moore ball fields. Cassie's team's opponents had just gotten the third out and were headed back into the field. Cassie's Fort Connor Blue team was up to bat.

“Way to go, Fort Connor Blue!” Megan shouted, then let out one of those ear-piercing whistles Marty had taught her.

Kelly shrank away, hand over her right ear, at the sound. “Man! That goes straight through my brain and rattles around.” She shook her head.

Megan grinned. “Yeah, it's super bad, isn't it? I love it. Marty said the secret is where you put your fingers on your front teeth.” She put her fingers to her teeth.

No more!” Kelly held up both hands in stop position. “Too early in the morning for that many decibels.”

Megan laughed then pointed toward the ball field where
Cassie's softball team was playing. “Cassie's getting to the ball faster. It's good she's playing right field. We need speed to run down those long balls.”

“Yeah, I was telling her yesterday that since she's grown so much, her legs are a lot longer, and she's running faster. I said she looked like a jackrabbit running around those bases. And she'll be running as fast as I do pretty soon.”

Megan chuckled. “I'm not so sure about that. You're even taller than she is and your legs are super long and strong. You lap those bases pretty fast.”

“She hit a triple at their Thursday night game. I told her that's because she's had two summers and a fall of softball batting practice. And a whole year of tennis classes. She's got arm muscles she didn't have before.”

“That'll do it.” Megan grinned and pulled up the sleeve of her team tee shirt and flexed her muscles, arm bent in “weightlifter” style. “Ya gotta be strong. Put it up there, Kelly,” she challenged.

Kelly rolled her eyes but succumbed to the challenge. How could she resist? She shoved up her tee shirt sleeve and flexed her arm muscles like Megan. “Beat ya,” she taunted, noting that her muscles were bigger than Megan's.

“Just a hair,” Megan replied, unfazed.

“What are you two doing? Getting ready to square off?” Lisa said as she stepped over the bleachers, hot dog and soda can in hand. “I'll put my money on Kelly. She's bigger than you, Megan.”

“Ah, the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” Megan said, grinning. “And I'm tougher.”

Lisa and Kelly laughed. “She's right, you know,” Kelly
said. “Megan is just one big muscle. Not an ounce of fat on her.” Kelly glanced at Lisa, who had taken a big bite of fully loaded hot dog. “Matter of fact, there's none on you, either, skinny one. Let's see what the hot dog does.”

Steve appeared at the foot of the bleachers. Hot dog and two pizza slices on a plastic plate, plus fries and a soda. “Hey, make room. I want to eat lunch early before we have to shift fields.” He easily stepped over two bleacher risers at a time as he climbed toward Kelly and friends. Long legs to the rescue.

“Did you guys see that article in the paper this morning?” Megan asked. “About the college student who was found dead in one of those huge apartment complexes near campus?”

Lisa's blue eyes widened. “Good Lord, yes! Police said it was a homicide but didn't say how she was killed. Terrible.”

“I know,” Kelly said as Steve settled on the higher bleacher row next to her. “Police are probably still contacting next of kin. They don't want to put out too much detail until the family has been notified.”

“That's gonna scare a lot of coeds into making sure their ground-floor apartments are locked, windows, too,” Steve said, then took a big bite of hot dog.

Kelly eyed the fully loaded hot dog and her stomach growled. An early lunch sounded like a really good idea.

“Well, let's hope this scares some coeds into being more careful,” Megan said.

“Mimi was really upset and worried yesterday when the news came on the radio,” Kelly added. “Burt and I had to calm her down. Thank goodness she had a class to teach.”

“Mother Mimi,” Lisa commented. “She worries about all her chicks.”

“I'm gonna go get one of those hot dogs,” Megan said, stepping over a bleacher row. “Steve's looks way too good to resist.”

“Listen, would you get me one, too? Just like yours, fully loaded, and a soda,” Kelly asked, pulling a ten-dollar bill from her back pocket. “We'll have a bleacher lunch. Not the first time, and it certainly won't be the last.”

“That's for sure,” Lisa said. “We're still on for Jennifer and Pete's tonight, right? Are we ordering out? Let's do Chinese. I can't look at another pizza.” She took a big bite of hot dog.

“Chinese works for me,” Kelly agreed, watching Cassie's team batting lineup move along. Cassie stood in the next batter's circle, practicing her swing while her teammate was at the plate, ready to bat.

“Yeah, me, too,” Steve said, then glanced to the side of the bleachers. “Hey, Eric. How'd your game turn out?”

Eric smiled. “We beat 'em by five. I got a couple of doubles, too.”

“Good job!” Kelly congratulated Curt Stackhouse's grandson. Same age as Cassie but taller and skinnier. Thirteen going on high school.

“C'mon up here and join us,” Steve beckoned. “Cassie's gonna bat next. Meanwhile, you can catch us up on what you've been doing.”

Kelly watched the even skinnier and faster jackrabbit Eric step effortlessly over the bleacher rows. Way longer legs. Clearly in a growth spurt like Cassie's. “Your parents keeping you busy over at their ranch?”

“Oh, yeah. And I've been helping Grandpa Curt every day, too. Learning the cattle business, he says.” Eric settled on the bleacher bench beside Steve.

“Boy, you're gonna be a heckuva rancher some day,” Steve said, grinning at Eric. “Alpaca and sheep business with your mom and dad, and the cattle business with your grandpa. I'd say that's a dynamite combination.”

Eric flushed just a little with Steve's praise. “I like it. Tell the truth, I like working with the cattle even more than sheep and alpacas. But they're good, too.”

Kelly thought she spotted Eric's quick glance toward Steve's pizza slices sitting on the plate. Steve must have noticed, too, she figured, because he spoke up.

“Listen, Eric. I can't finish that pizza. This hot dog is doing it for me. Why don't you take the pizza?”

Eric's eyes lit up. “Really? Wow, thanks! I'm getting pretty hungry but I wanted to see Cassie bat first.”

Steve handed over the plastic plate with pizza. “Go for it. You're in a growth spurt, I can tell.”

Eric fairly inhaled the pizza, half a slice disappeared in ten seconds. The second half went like the first. Gone. Much to Steve's and Kelly's amusement.

“I was about to ask for a bite,” Kelly teased.

Eric stopped then swallowed. “Um, sorry. You want some?” He offered the last bite.

Steve held up his hand. “Nope. You're a teenage boy in a growth spurt. You need it. Megan's bringing Kelly a hot dog. Besides, she's teasing you.”

Eric screwed up his face. “How can you tell? I can never tell when girls are teasing. They're weird.” He wagged his
head in the manner of boys growing to be men. It was an age-old question.

“You'll learn. And, yes, girls are definitely weird. They're inscrutable.” Steve took a deep drink of soda to chase the last hot dog bite.

Kelly smiled and kept her mouth shut during this “man-to-man” exchange. Man talk. Also as ancient as time.

Eric looked out toward the field. “‘Inscrutable.' That was one of our vocabulary words. It means ‘hard to figure out.'”

Steve gave Eric a pat on the back. “That's for sure. See Kelly there?” He pointed. “She's smiling. But you can't tell if she's smiling because she's watching a starving teenager eat, or if she's secretly laughing at us and our inability to figure out girls. Inscrutable.”

Kelly just held her inscrutable smile, and pointed to the field. “Cassie's up. Let's all hope for a triple.”

Cassie gave another practice swing, then settled into her batter's crouch. Pitcher let fly. Ball one. Cassie held still.

Good girl
, Kelly thought to herself.
Wait for it. Wait for the right one.

Ball two and Cassie held. “Way to read the ball, Cassie!” Lisa yelled from her spot farther to Kelly's right.

The next ball was a faster, low-dropping pitch. Cassie swung—and missed. “
Steee-rike one!
” yelled the umpire behind home plate. Cassie gave another practice swing and went into her crouch. The next ball was right in the zone. Cassie swung and popped the ball foul. Ball three. Another fast low-dropping pitch, and Cassie swung and missed again. “
Steee-rike two!
” bellowed the umpire.

“Uh-oh,” Eric said.

“Yeah, tighten up, Cassie,” Lisa advised.

Everyone leaned forward, waiting for the next pitch. High and over Cassie's head. Ball four. She dropped the bat and loped over to first base, long legs covering ground.

“Whew!” Steve said. “That was a close one.”

“Now I know what I have to work on with the girls in clinic next week. We've gotta practice hitting those balls.”

“They're hard,” Eric added, waving to Cassie on first base. She waved to everyone and got several waves in return. “I've struck out a lot on those low balls that drop at the end.”

“I'd be glad to coach you, if you can find time in that busy ranch schedule of yours,” Steve said.

Eric's face lit up. “You're serious? Whoa! That's great.”

“Let me talk to your grandpa. I don't want to interfere with your parents' schedule, so let's see if your grandpa Curt can loosen up some time for you. They've dropped in to watch some of your games. And Cassie's, too.”

Just then a tall older teenage boy strutted up to the bleachers and looked at Steve and Kelly with a big cheesy grin. “Hey, Coach Flynn! Coach T! Did you come to watch us play? We're gonna annihilate Longmont Blue tonight.”

Kelly looked down and saw O'Leary, the mouthiest of the Three Wise Guys she and Jennifer tried to whip into shape for a Christmas church pageant a few years ago. “I thought I smelled trouble, O'Leary!” Kelly taunted. “You guys are Fort Connor Red team, right?”

“You betcha, Coach.” O'Leary grinned and took a practice swing. Muscles flexed and he swung the bat in perfect form—smooth and powerful. “Outta the park!” he bragged,
grinning. “Thanks to you and Coach T, I'm hitting everything they throw at me.”

“Yeah, but are you hitting it deep or fouling out?” Kelly deliberately taunted, wondering if she could prick that huge O'Leary ego.

O'Leary's cheesy grin melted across his face. “Like I said, Coach. Outta the park!” He swung again, powerful and smooth, then kissed his fingertips and pointed over the fence.

Kelly, Steve, Eric, and Lisa laughed out loud. Steve nodded to Eric. “Kelly worked with O'Leary first, then I worked with him. And now you see the results.” Steve laughed at O'Leary's swagger.

“Perfection,” O'Leary bragged and strutted a few feet away, swung at an imaginary pitch again. Three young teenage girls from another team watched him, then giggled, and grinned in his direction.

“O'Leary, you haven't changed a bit. You're bigger and stronger, but you're still a rooster strutting around, impressing the girls,” Kelly teased. The three teenage girls giggled and walked away.

O'Leary grinned, unfazed by Kelly's scolding. “Love you, too, Coach Flynn,” he teased. “See you later.” And he sauntered away, leaving behind a cloud of teenage boy ego and confidence all wrapped together. A fascinating mix of things to come.

“He's pretty sure of himself,” Eric said, watching O'Leary swagger away.

“O'Leary was born with ego,” Kelly observed. “He's a great kid beneath it all, but that mouth of his is gonna get him into trouble some day.”

Megan climbed back over the bleachers, hands filled with hot dogs and soda cans. “Here you go,” she said, handing Kelly a hot dog dripping with condiments and a can of soda.

“Thanks so much, Megan,” Kelly said, taking the fully loaded dog and soda. Her stomach growled loudly now. No more need to wait, Kelly took a big bite of the juicy ballpark staple.
. Nothing like a ballpark frank with everything. She closed her eyes and savored.

“How'd Cassie do at bat?” Megan asked before taking a bite.

“She got four balls. See, she's on first base.” Lisa pointed.

Another small group of young teenage girls, who looked junior high age to Kelly, paused a few feet in front of the bleachers. They scanned the bleachers, then one of them pointed to the top row where Kelly and her friends sat. Then they clustered together and started talking and smiling, then laughing, glancing back at the bleachers once more before they moved on.

“See, there's another thing about girls I can't figure out,” Eric said, watching the girls walk away. “They're always in little groups, and they whisper and look at you and start to laugh.” He wagged his head. “You don't know if they're making fun of you or what. Gotta be that inscrutable thing you're talking about.”

“Who's inscrutable?” Megan asked, licking some escaping ketchup. “Not us.”

Lisa started to laugh. “Megan's never had an inscrutable day in her life. She always tells it like it is. So does Kelly. Now, me . . . I have to be more careful around all those
university egos.” She leaned back against the bleacher row behind.

“It was the same when I was your age,” Steve said with a smile. “It took me a while to figure them out. They're not making fun of you. The reason they're pointing and whispering and laughing is because they like you. Girls don't mess with guys they don't like. They ignore them.” He leaned back against the bleachers.

BOOK: Purl Up and Die
2.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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